Info & Advice

Does living together encourage or discourage marriage?

Couples may happily spend many years together, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will end up marrying. The registry office or wedding chapel has not been the default destination for couples in love for some time now. Instead, it has become the norm to ‘try before you buy’: to move in together and see how the relationship develops before making things official. Will you still get on a year or two down the line? Or will the inevitable emergence of an annoying habit or two prove too much and trigger a break-up?

Request a Free Consultation with a Solicitor

But if the couple do stay together, many people still expect an eventual wedding It seems the natural, inevitable destination after years under the same roof, in at least some semblance of happiness. And more often than not, that is exactly what happens: a little over half of all cohabiting couples end up walking down the aisle within five years of moving in together. Forty per cent of the remaining couples split up, after realising they just weren’t as compatible as they had thought.

There is no definitive answer to this question of why the difference between those who marry and those who break-up is so narrow because there are so many variables in every marriage. Every couple is different, and what works for one may not work for another. But we can draw a few broad conclusions.


Each partner brings their own set of perspectives to the relationship, and for some, the idea of marriage may not come with good associations. Perhaps one of their parents abandoned the other, perhaps their mother and father divorced acrimoniously: many people who watched their own parents break up bitterly during their childhood may – consciously or unconsciously – wish to avoid marriage for that very reason. If they never get married, they can never get divorced. Childhood trauma lingers and such anxieties can certainly colour decisions made in adult life, even if the person in question is no longer consciously aware they are doing so.

Perhaps a person in a cohabiting relationship simply does not believe in the institution of marriage, or holds incorrect assumptions about the legal status of cohabitation. While some countries do recognise the concept of a ‘common law marriage’, in which simply living together conveys legal rights if the relationship breaks down, England and Wales are not amongst those. Marriage is required for basic legal protections like inheritance and financial provision.

Whatever the reason, as the years pass, each party in a cohabiting couple can find their visions of the future starting to go out of synch, threatening their future together.

The pros and the cons of living together

There are both pros and cons to living together before marriage. The pros include:

  • Gaining a better understanding of your partner: living together before marriage can help you better understand your partner’s habits, routines, and lifestyle.
  • Sharing financial responsibilities: living together will mean you share everyday expenses such as rent, bills, and groceries, making life more affordable.
  • Learning to negotiate, compromise and navigate disagreements, while the stakes are still relatively low.
  • Simple companionship: it’s a lonely world and a romantic relationship brings focus and reassurance to everyday life.

But there is a downside too. A study published by the Journal of Marriage and Family concluded that there’s no substantial evidence that cohabitation before marriage can minimize divorce risks. Other studies have suggested that living together before marriage is associated with lower odds of divorce in the first year of marriage, but then actually increases the odds of divorce in all subsequent years. It may be that cohabitation removes the novelty factor: if you’ve already lived with someone for years, there may be less incentive to try and work your way through any problems that occur within an eventual marriage.

Alternatively, a person may be attracted to the idea of living together indefinitely because they have no real belief or faith in the relationship, but they would quite like to continue enjoying all the conveniences of sharing the same roof without ever having to make serious commitments such as marriage or parenthood.

Communication is key

This can be a disastrous discovery for the other partner, who may have sincerely wanted marriage and kids only to discover multiple years in that their partner did not. They were patient, they waited years for their apparent soulmate to feel comfortable with commitment, only to discover one day that it was all for nothing. They then face all the upheaval of moving out and starting a new life elsewhere, alongside the not inconsiderable challenge of finding a compatible new partner who does want marriage and kids. Without that, the cherished family dream may be lost forever.

It makes a lot of sense, therefore, to discuss aspirations and attitudes early on in any relationship. Compatibility isn’t just about chemistry or the ability to get along on a day-to-day basis: it’s also, and crucially, about whether your long-term goals and innermost attitudes are in harmony with each other.

Related Articles

Load More

Podcast: Listen Now